Monday, March 21, 2005

With extreme prejudice

The dog-whistle blows another blast against another minority group, with Howard busy stoking the fires of anger against them purely for cheap electoral gain, following hard on their blatant lies about the directive from John Prescott last week.

This is a supposedly libertarian party - remember how they back your freedom to tear small animals to pieces with dogs and proclaimed liberty as the reason for opposing the anti-terrorism legislation? When it suits, though, they are happy to promise that, 'the whole paraphernalia of Britain's discredited human rights laws will be overhauled or scrapped.' So how does scrapping the Human Rights Act actually enhance liberty?

Howard seems happy to threaten to destroy the wider protections offered by the HRA for the dubious purpose of dealing with illegal encampments. They also propose criminalising trespass, which won't have any effect on the retrospective planning applications, as the travellers own the land and you can't trespass on your own land. The police already have powers to move groups on under the Public Order Act, but rarely use it because of the risk of further antagonising the situation - would it be any different if the law were to be changed? The proposals offer plenty of sticks with which to beat the travellers, but no carrots to tempt them to work within the law.

Don't forget that the current problem with the lack of sites for travelling families is largely down to the 1994 Tory legislation that removed the requirement for local councils to maintain approved sites for travellers. The hope was that travellers would buy their own sites, which is what happened. Unfortunately, they were rarely given planning permission, with the outcome that they still buy land and move onto it to set up home before applying for permission. Given the outcome of the vast majority of planning applications, there seems to be evidence of prejudice against this most reviled group of people. They have few friends in the press prepared to give them an honest hearing - the Independent and the Guardian seem to bother, although the BBC have woken up to the issue and have a balanced report on the Minety traveller site.

There are groups of travellers that leave destruction and filth in their wake - I've seen some of these sites after they have been moved on and it is disgraceful. That does not mean that all travellers are the same. We should be happy to make reasonable adjustments to the system to ensure an equality of opportunity for all - that seems only equitable to me. I made reference a week ago to the successful policies of Fenland District Council towards this group, encouraging them to use the correct legal processes and guiding them through applications. It isn't a question of treating the application differently, just treating it fairly and without prejudice.

Demonising a small group of people for short-term electoral gain is obscene, but no bandwagon is too much for the current bunch of misfits in charge of the Tories. As seems to be the pattern over recent weeks, they go for the sound-bite and the headline to highlight their extremism, all the while promising that their policies aren't racist, just common sense.

Sometimes, the evidence suggests otherwise. After all, some of Gerald Howarth's best friends are 'black as the ace of spades.'

Remember, unless you get out there and vote, this lot could be in power.

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